Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
ChiyoDad

Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by ChiyoDad » Wed Jun 25, 2008 11:07 pm

There was one old topic that I came across which suggested that fossilized walrus ivory, used for the saddle, would brighten the tone of a guitar. The qualities of FWI were not discussed however since the topic was about string selection.

I wanted to explore the nature of FWI. Does it make any subtle changes in tone versus bone? What about legally-harvested elephant ivory?

MikFik

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by MikFik » Wed Jun 25, 2008 11:37 pm

Simply put: Ivory is lighter than bone and the fossilized stuff is even lighter due to the extreme age and the leeching of minerals over time. It is at least as hard as cow bone but it is way easier to work. The guitars that I've gone to the expense to put ivory in the saddle slot sounded great before and sounded great after the change so I can't answer your question but I love the stuff. The distributor says it's 10,000 years old. I don't know if that's true but I like the idea of something that old and beautiful on my guitars.

jfdana

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by jfdana » Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:55 am

This question tends to be discussed to the point of pistols at 20 paces on steel string fora. The conclusion usually ends up, "hard to tell, but it looks nice and doesn't seem to hurt."

ChiyoDad

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by ChiyoDad » Thu Jun 26, 2008 2:05 am

jfdana wrote:This question tends to be discussed to the point of pistols at 20 paces on steel string fora.
Probably more like rocket-launchers at five feet.
:wink:

But we may have more interesting responses from our luthiers. Besides, we are talking nylon stringed instruments here. The effects may be different.

gypsyjazzguitars

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by gypsyjazzguitars » Thu Jun 26, 2008 11:26 am

An interesting question. I put bunches on mandolins. Increases clarity, warmth, focus. Why I wouldn't know. Someone with more time than I have needs to put in good bone, fossil walrus, and various synthetics. Get spectra and listening/playing reports. On a very good guitar. That would be worth doing!

duende

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by duende » Thu Jun 26, 2008 4:55 pm

This question tends to be discussed to the point of pistols at 20 paces on steel string fora.
So, you've visited the UMGF, eh? ;^)

George

hsmyers

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by hsmyers » Fri Jul 04, 2008 11:54 am

MikFik wrote:Simply put: Ivory is lighter than bone and the fossilized stuff is even lighter due to the extreme age and the leeching of minerals over time.
Don't want to dispute this, but it seems to me that by definition, a fossil becomes one by the addition of minerals over time, rather than the leeching of them. Isn't fossilization pretty much the same as petrification like petrified wood?

--hsm

MikFik

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by MikFik » Fri Jul 04, 2008 3:49 pm

hsneyers: I like the way your mind works, you very well could be right. I guess it is always dangerous to repeat something one has been told nomatter who the info came from. You are correct about petrofied wood so I am reconsidering what I said about ivory, anyway I still stick to what I said about ivory being lighter - now I'm wondering why it is so light, after all it used to support the weight of a Walrus. They're pretty big and heavy so it HAD to be strong.

Abyrd

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by Abyrd » Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:41 pm

hsmyers wrote: Don't want to dispute this, but it seems to me that by definition, a fossil becomes one by the addition of minerals over time, rather than the leeching of them. Isn't fossilization pretty much the same as petrification like petrified wood?
--hsm
As I understand it, fossilization is the process where minerals replace tissues from living organisms, bone or otherwise. Fossils can be the mineralized remains, or even just an imprint in the stone where the organism once was. Petrification refers to some organic material turning into stone without decaying. This last point is the main difference.

Ivory consists of both organic (amino acids) and inorganic parts (calcium, phosphate, magnesium, fluoride, cobalt and zinc) . Now, if fossilization replaces the organic part by minerals, it should result in an ivory that is more dense than fresh ivory, since the minerals replacing the amino acids would be heavier. Now, if the organic part has decayed and not undergone any fossilization/petrification process, the ivory should be less dense, however we'd have to just call it "old ivory" or something like that.

But does it sound any different? I have no idea!

MikFik

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by MikFik » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:03 am

I just replaced the saddle on my 7 string with black buffalo horn and it sounds better than it has ever sounded before but I don't know if it's the material or the fit and finish of the installation. Preveously I had been making a loose slip fit between saddle and slot (for fear of the bridge cracking from too tight a fit) but this time I made it a press fit, took the saddle back out and polished it to a glass finish. When I re-installed it in the slot I could feel both edges of the horn as they slid down the slot walls. A perfect fit (or as close as possible) and this very well be the cause of the wonderful tone I now get. I built this guitar about 7 years ago and use it as my main prototype. I have used every type of saddle material I could get my hands on and this black horn is my favorite so far. As a matter of fact I had fossilzed walrus ivory in there last which is what I just replaced. It may just be my old eyes but I found the black horn much easier to work with than the white bone and ivory I'm used to and I've never seen a material polish to such a finish with so little work.
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ChiyoDad

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by ChiyoDad » Tue Jul 15, 2008 3:34 pm

MikFik wrote:Preveously I had been making a loose slip fit between saddle and slot (for fear of the bridge cracking from too tight a fit) but this time I made it a press fit, took the saddle back out and polished it to a glass finish. When I re-installed it in the slot I could feel both edges of the horn as they slid down the slot walls. A perfect fit (or as close as possible) and this very well be the cause of the wonderful tone I now get.
Interesting note. I might try a press fit with my saddle upgrade.

I've noticed that some higher-end guitars do not have a slip fit but that's just anecdotal evidence and inconclusive.

Jeff H.

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by Jeff H. » Sun Jul 20, 2008 7:57 pm

"Fossils" by definition are rocks. A "rock" saddle may impart a different tone.

Old walrus tusk and bone and tusq and corian and so seem to my ear to be impossible to differentiate in a blind test.

fscott55

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by fscott55 » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:41 pm

MikFik wrote:Simply put: Ivory is lighter than bone and the fossilized stuff is even lighter due to the extreme age and the leeching of minerals over time. It is at least as hard as cow bone but it is way easier to work. The guitars that I've gone to the expense to put ivory in the saddle slot sounded great before and sounded great after the change so I can't answer your question but I love the stuff. The distributor says it's 10,000 years old. I don't know if that's true but I like the idea of something that old and beautiful on my guitars.
I will respectfully disagree on fossilized walrus ivory being lighter than bone. I've been making saddles for 15 years and have done more experimentation than I want to admit, but I've never had a FWI saddle that was lighter than its bone counterpart. Even bone saddle that are slightly thicker and larger tend to weigh less than FWI.

FWI is very dense and hard. I've used it on Martin guitars to some good effect to reduce the "wolliness" and tubbiness. On classical guitars my experience has been less than stellar. I find that FWI on classical reduces the openess and bassiness which my ears like to hear, and increases the "stringiness" on the instrument.

I've used real elephant ivory on dreadnoughts, but have not yet had a chance to try them on classical. They are softer than bone and noticeably reduce the high frequencies. I'm not a fan of real elephant ivory for several reasons but I think they might sound OK on classical if you want more tubby bass and less highs.

ChiyoDad

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by ChiyoDad » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:35 pm

fscott55 wrote:FWI is very dense and hard. I've used it on Martin guitars to some good effect to reduce the "wolliness" and tubbiness. On classical guitars my experience has been less than stellar. I find that FWI on classical reduces the openess and bassiness which my ears like to hear, and increases the "stringiness" on the instrument.

I've used real elephant ivory on dreadnoughts, but have not yet had a chance to try them on classical. They are softer than bone and noticeably reduce the high frequencies. I'm not a fan of real elephant ivory for several reasons but I think they might sound OK on classical if you want more tubby bass and less highs.
Based on what you've written, it sounds like bone is still the preferred standard based on your experiments to date.

fscott55

Re: Does fossilized walrus ivory make subtle changes in tone?

Post by fscott55 » Mon Jul 21, 2008 8:03 pm

Right now I'm leaning towards bone of course, but also making the saddle as light as possible.

In my current testing, I've come to the conclusion that a thinner (and thus lighter) saddle produces better openess, loudness, and responsiveness. Is it only a coincidence that a thinner saddle is also lighter? I do not know. Someone mentiond that perhaps the mass of the saddle has more effect on the tone than the dimensions.

So with that theory, I've reshaped the top have of one of my saddles to reduce even more mass. Likely the lightest bone saddle I've ever had on my guitar and it does sound very very good. Too early to be objective as the weather may have quite an effect on it.

So it's interesting that FWI is the heaviest of material I've ever used for a saddle, and thus my least favorite on classical. It could be the hardness of it, which affects frequency response, or the mass of it. I really don't know.

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